By day, I'm a venture capitalist. On weekends, I love rockets. I love photography, I love rockets. I'm going to talk about a hobby that can scale and show you photos I've taken over the years with kids like these, that hopefully will grow up to love rocketry and eventually become a Richard Branson or Diamandis. My son designed a rocket that became stable, a golf ball rocket. I thought it was quite an interesting experiment in the principles of rocket science. And it flies straight as an arrow.
Baking soda and vinegar. Night shots are beautiful, piercing the Big Dipper and the Milky Way. 2-stage rockets with video cameras on them, onboard computers logging their flights, rocket gliders that fly back to Earth. I use RockSim to simulate flights before they go to see if they'll break supersonic, then fly them with onboard computers to verify performance.
To launch the big stuff, you go to the middle of nowhere: Black Rock Desert, where dangerous things happen. The boys and the rockets get bigger. They use motors used on cruise-missile boosters. They rumble the belly and leave even photographers in awe, watching the spectacle. These rockets use experimental motors like nitrous oxide. They use solid propellant most frequently. It's a strange kind of love.
RocketMavericks.com with my photos, if you want to learn about this, participate, be a spectator. We had to call it Rocket Mavericks. This one was great, went to 100,000 feet — but didn't quite. Actually, it went 11 feet into solid clay and became a bunker-buster. It had to be dug out.
Rockets often spiral out of control if you put too much propellant in them. Here was a drag race. At night you can see what happened in a second; in daytime, we call them land sharks. Sometimes they just explode before your eyes or come down supersonic.
To take this shot, I did what I often do, which is go way beyond the pads, where none of the spectators are. And if we can run the video, I'll show you what it took to get this DreamWorks shot.
(Video) Voices: Woo-hoo! Yeah. Nice.
Steve Jurvetson: They realize the computer failed, they're yelling "Deploy!" (Video) Man: Oh, shit.
SJ: This is when they realize everything's gone haywire.
(Video) Man: It's going ballistic.
SJ: I'll just be quiet.
(Video) Woman: No! Come on, come on, come on.
SJ: And that's me over there, taking photos the whole way. Things often go wrong. Some people watch this because of a NASCAR-like fascination with things bumping and grinding. Burning the parachute as it fell. That was last weekend. This guy went up, went supersonic, ripped the fin can off. The art sale in the sky. A burning metal hunk coming back. These things dropped down from above all through the weekend of rocket launch after rocket launch. It's a cadence you can't quite imagine. I try to capture the mishaps; it's a challenge in photography when these things take place in a fraction of a second.
Why do it? For things like this: Gene from Alabama drives out there with this rocket he's built with X-ray sensors, video cameras, festooned with electronics. He succeeds getting to 100,000 feet, leaving the atmosphere, seeing a thin blue line of space.
It is this breathtaking image — success, of course — that motivates us and motivates kids to follow and understand rocket science, understand the importance of physics and math and, in many ways, to have that awe at exploration of the frontiers of the unknown.